Alternate headline: “Obama votes present.”
President Barack Obama does not plan to accept any of the Afghanistan war options presented by his national security team, pushing instead for revisions to clarify how and when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government, a senior administration official said Wednesday.
That push follows strong reservations about a possible troop buildup expressed by the U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, according to a second top administration official.
The Times actually saw this coming this morning, before the national security meeting, when it quoted one participant in the meeting as saying, “He’s simply not convinced yet that you can do a lasting counterinsurgency strategy if there is no one to hand it off to.” I can only assume that means he’s leaning towards some sort of benchmark system by which progress in reducing corruption in the Afghan government and training the Afghan army will determine how many U.S. troops are deployed. The reasonable way to do that would be to give McChrystal what he wants up front and then start pulling people out if Karzai drags his feet, but that seems unlikely if The One has rejected all possible options up front. If he decides to deploy troops piecemeal, in gradual installments depending upon whether the Afghans show progress, then he runs into the problem identified by Fred Kagan here. And of course, threatening Karzai with pulling the entire force out is a non-starter. No one believes he’ll do that; the Times has an entire piece tonight devoted to calling his bluff about it. Exit question: How much longer?